Usually the first race of the season, the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida now host the final race of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, which has been anything but “usual”. Scott Dixon holds onto a 32 point lead after letting Josef Newgarden continue to chip away at it in the second half of the season, and now it all comes down to this. Who will walk away with the legendary Astor Cup? Here’s everything you need to know going into the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
What happened last year?
Will Power started things off strong for Team Penske, and would start the race from pole, his eighth time doing so at the course. However, his race would be turned on its head after the team called him in to pit, anticipating a caution for Sebastien Bourdais, who had an early mechanical issue. That caution did not come, and put Power deep in the field.
He would regain the lead at the first caution later on, as everyone else came in to pit, and upon the restart he lost the lead to rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who was on fresh tyres. Rosenqvist would impress the field and lead the middle stint of the race, but a slow pit stop would cost him a chance at a win in his debut race.
Josef Newgarden would take the lead after an ambitious strategy by Penske to put him on the faster alternate tyre on the penultimate pit stop. Newgarden was able to fly by lap traffic and claim the lead. The leaders around him were all on the primary tyre, and were stuck behind drivers who had yet to pit. This would leave Newgarden with a ten second gap to second place, stretching his alternates just as far as those on primary tyres before making his final pit stop.
Newgarden would win by a two second margin to Scott Dixon, with polesitter Power taking the final step of the podium, with Rosenqvist making his presence felt in his debut with a fourth place finish.
You can view the full race recap here.
What should I look out for this weekend?
Obviously, the main storyline here is the championship fight between Dixon and Newgarden. Without double points being awarded in the final race this year, it’s going to be difficult for Newgarden to claim the title, but it isn’t impossible. If Newgarden were to win the race, he would need Dixon to finish in thirteenth or worse to win the title. If Dixon finishes 12th, Newgarden must win and lead the most laps to become champion.
Dixon’s form has fallen off significantly from the early-season domination that gave him such an enormous points lead to begin with. Dixon hasn’t finished in the top five since the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 doubleheader in July, finishing tenth in both events of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio and ninth and eighth at the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since Dixon’s last win, Newgarden has a two wins and a lowest finish of eighth. This will be very exciting to watch.
Coming off of his third Australian Supercar Championship victory, Scott McLaughlin will be making his IndyCar debut in the No 3. Chevrolet for Team Penske. The New Zealand native tested with the team at Sebring in January, but was unable to make his originally scheduled debut at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis due to COVID-19, but finally gets his shot in St. Pete. There’s a lot of promise and excitement around the 27-year-old, and with good reason. It will be interesting to see how he performs as he tries for a full-time seat.
Oliver Askew will also be returning to the grid, as the Arrow McLaren SP driver was cleared to return to action after concussion-like symptoms stemming from a wreck at the Indianapolis 500 forced him to withdrawal from the Harvest GP. It will also be his last race for AMSP, as they announced earlier this month that he will be leaving the team. The Jupiter, FL native will be looking for a strong showing in his home-state to prove why he still belongs in IndyCar.
What is the schedule for this weekend?
Saturday 24 October
10:55 EST / 15:55 GMT – Practice
15:05 EST / 20:55 GMT – Qualifying
Sunday 03 October
14:20 EST / 19:20 GMT – Race
Where can I watch the race?
Coverage in the UK for the races will be on Sky Sports F1.
In the United States, coverage for the race will be on NBC. All practice and qualifying coverage will be on NBC Sports Gold.
Where can I keep up with all the action?
You can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag.
Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@IndyCar) for live updates throughout the event.